Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.17.20

Sunburn Orange Tally (8)
Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

Here’s the 2020 election scoreboard so far in Commission on Ethics battles involving crusaders trying to go after what they call “sham” write-in candidates whose appearances close primaries.

Write-in candidates: 4; Dave Aronberg and Sherry Plymale: 0.

Aronberg is the Democratic Palm Beach County State Attorney who’s been attacking a “write-in candidate” loophole in Florida elections law since he was in the Florida Senate more than a decade ago. Plymale is the Palm City Republican who, as a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission, proposed a constitutional amendment to close the loophole.

Dave Aronberg is on a crusade to close the write-in candidate loophole. Image via Orange County Register.

Aronberg’s best legislative effort was struck down in court. The commission rejected Plymale’s proposal.

Since 1998, if the only candidates for an office are of the same party, the Primary Election is opened to all voters, as a de facto General Election for that office. Yet if a write-in candidate gets qualified for the November General Election, primaries remain closed to all but the one party’s voters.


In the past couple of election cycles, Aronberg and Plymale have been trying to hold accountable the write-in candidates they call “sham” candidates, whose candidacies appear to be arranged by party operatives to shut out nonparty voters.

The pair file complaints against people of either major party who file, usually on the last day of qualifying, to run as write-in candidates in elections where only one party has qualified candidates. The pair look for write-in candidates’ failures to comply with the details of financial disclosure laws, common problems for candidates who aren’t serious enough to make such public disclosures.

For the 2018 election, the commission found three such write-ins targeted by Aronberg and Plymale had violated Florida elections laws and fined the candidates.

This year, zero out of four, so far, earned such sanctions after the commission heard their cases.


Spotted — Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moscowitz in E&E News, a group of publications focusing on energy and the environment, as one of the prominent emergency management officials who could be considered a possible candidate to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the upcoming Joe Biden administration.

Will Jared Moscowitz be the next FEMA head?


In other notes:

🚦Interactive tool shows various travel restrictions: Skyscanner created an interactive map showing where in the world travel is a-go and where it is a no-go. The map shows each country in red, yellow or green. As with traffic lights, the colors represent nations that are open, partially open or heavily restricted. Interestingly, the U.S. shows gray on the map, indicating Skyscanner doesn’t have enough information on U.S. restrictions to estimate travel ease.

📰COVID-19 coverage was the year’s best journalism: The Columbia Journalism Review concluded virus coverage, in general, earned this year’s stature as the best reporting as a collective. But that didn’t stop the publication from rounding up some of the year’s standout work. Featured work includes that from The New York Times’ Donald G. McNeil Jr., The Atlantic’s Ed Young, and ProPublica writers Robert Faturechi and Derek Willis, among others. Check out the full list here.

🥶 — Dippin’ Dots might have some lessons for vaccine storage: The iconic little ice cream dots have to be shipped at a frigid -49 degrees or risk losing their little ball-like consistency. The Pfizer COVID-19 dance requires similar delicate refrigeration, -94 degrees, lest it becomes ineffective. Dippin’ Dots has already figured out how to ship mass quantities of its ice cream in deep freezers, and its method could be useful as Pfizer, and later Moderna, roll out vaccine orders.

🎊Fun facts about the NYC New Year’s Eve ball: Did you know the ball includes 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles? Or that it measures 12-feet in diameter and weighs a whopping 11,875 pounds? Neither did we. Check out more trivia-worthy details here.

🚂Stumped on Christmas gifts? CityLab’s got you: From New York City MetroCard-inspired mouse pads to repurposed music stands, CityLab compiled a list of off the wall, often transit-related gift ideas for the long-quarantined loved ones in your life. Check it out here.

🌊Everything is awesome in Lego form: Jumpei Mitsui is the world’s youngest-ever Lego Certified Professional, and he did something awesome: Created Hokusai’s The Great Wave of Kanagawa using only Legos, arguably the most famous piece of Japanese art in the world. The Lego structure took 50,000 blocks and 400 hours to build. It’s not just a sculpture; it’s a realistic rendition of an actual wave that required hours of research into complex wave structure. You won’t find this on a toy shelf, rather in the Hankyu Brick Museum in Osaka, Japan.


Tweet, tweet:

@RealDonaldTrump: Mitch [McConnell], 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!

@RebeccaRKaplan@JoeBiden on getting vaccinated: “I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure that we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take.” Pledges again he will receive it publicly.

@EWErickson: It will be interesting to watch Ron DeSantis over the next four years and also just how hostile and unfair the national press covers him in the run-up to 2024. The reality is he has outperformed Cuomo on COVID and gotten withering coverage while Cuomo got hagiography.

@Conarck: The vaccine timeline kinda emphasizes how Florida really, really dodged a bullet this last hurricane season. That would have been a disaster.

@GNewburn: Back when the pandemic started, I said a good rule of thumb is no state should have more COVID prison deaths than releases. As of today, Florida has 63 times more prison deaths (189, officially) than releases (3). Hard to imagine any state has done worse, right?

@OmariJHardy: I was told today that I should tone down my sense of outrage about what’s going on in this country. I’m sorry, but we’re nine months into a pandemic, and folks in Congress are preparing to pat themselves on the back over a potential deal to send us $600. Outrage is warranted.

@Chris_Minor: Officially filed! Excited to have Chair @KeithPerryFL back running a bill that’ll help 21k kids in FL expunge their records once they’ve completed programs affording them a 2nd Chance. Look for Rep. @ElectSmith28 to carry it in the House. This is great legislation for FL kids!


NBA 2020-21 opening night — 5; “The Midnight Sky” with George Clooney premieres on Netflix — 6; “Wonder Woman 1984” rescheduled premiere — 8; Pixar’s “Soul” premiere (rescheduled for Disney+) — 8; Greyhound racing ends in Florida — 14; Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association human trafficking compliance training deadline — 15; Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections — 19; WandaVision premieres on Disney+ — 29; the 2021 Inauguration — 34; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 52; Daytona 500 — 59; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 65; Children’s Gasparilla — 115; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 116; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 121; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 127; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 141; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 196; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 214; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 218; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 226; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 250; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 320; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 324; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 326; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 358; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 422; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 475; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 656.


Mike Pence to receive televised vaccine shot” via Jonathan Swan of Axios — Pence plans to receive his coronavirus vaccine shot on camera Friday morning at the White House to build “vaccine confidence” among the American people, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the plans. Details are still being worked out, but Pence wants the TV networks to carry the moment live in the morning, the source said, to maximize the audience for the vaccination. Pence, who has led the White House coronavirus task force, will be joined by second lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Adams is one of the highest-ranking African American officials in the U.S. government and has been trying to instill vaccine confidence in communities of color.

Joe Biden expected to get coronavirus vaccination early next week” via Jeff Zeleny and Kate Sullivan of CNN — Biden is expected to get his first COVID-19 vaccination early next week, CNN has learned, and plans to get his shot in public. “I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden told reporters Wednesday. “When I do it, I’ll do it publicly, so you can all witness my getting it done.” People familiar with the plans say Biden is likely to get his shot next week. The delay has not been borne out of hesitation, aides say, but rather logistics of administering the shot in a public setting.

Joe Biden gets his shot next week. Image via AP.

‘Let’s let her rip’: Florida becomes first state to vaccinate long-term care facility residents” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Florida didn’t want to wait until Monday to start vaccinating nursing home residents against COVID-19, so state health officials began administering the vaccine Wednesday. Walgreens and CVS have contracted with the federal government and will handle 60,000 doses in Florida, which could last the state a week to 10 days. But DeSantis told reporters that time is of the essence. “We’re not waiting. We cannot just wait ’till Monday,” the Governor said. “We’ve got to use what we have, and we’re going to continue in that mission until the job is done.” That makes Florida the first state to administer vaccines in long-term care facilities, according to Army Gen. Gustave Perna, COO for Operation Warp Speed.

‘Time is of the essence’ for COVID vaccine: Ron DeSantis frustrated with CVS and Walgreens” via John Pacenti of The Palm Beach Post — DeSantis stood by the side of an 88-year-old former Missouri schoolteacher and watched her become one of the first seniors in a long-term care facility nationwide to receive the vaccine. But before Vera Leip was inoculated by a state strike team, DeSantis expressed concerns about the shifting availability of the Pfizer vaccine and criticized Walgreens and CVS for their slow start in getting to other nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The chains received about 60,000 doses of the vaccine to administer to long-term care residents throughout the state, but that process won’t start until Monday. “We were not happy with allowing that wait,” said DeSantis at John Knox Village. “We really believe that time is of the essence.”

Ron DeSantis is frustrated with major pharmacies over the shifting availability of the COVID-19 vaccine.

AdventHealth begins vaccinating front-line staff; Pfizer says more shipments on track” via Naseem S. Miller of the Orlando Sentinel — A day after receiving its first shipment of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccines, AdventHealth on Wednesday morning began immunizing its front-line workers. “This is a milestone. It’s a huge one. We’re going to remember here at AdventHealth this day for a very, very, very long time,” said Dr. Steven Smith, chief scientific officer at AdventHealth Central Florida division. Sue Upper, a COVID-19 unit nurse manager at AdventHealth Orlando was among the first people to get a vaccination at the hospital on Wednesday morning. “I decided to get vaccinated because we need to stop this pandemic,” said Upper. “It’s been a rough nine months and we’re ready for it to come to an end.”

‘Not waiting.’ South Florida nursing home among first in U.S. to get COVID vaccine.” via Samantha J. Gross and Bianca Padro Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Residents of one of South Florida’s skilled nursing homes were among the first at long-term care facilities in the U.S. to receive doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, as Florida got a head start on inoculating at-risk seniors while most facilities wait to get doses of the vaccine from partner pharmacies through a federal program. DeSantis, who made a brief visit to John Knox Village in Pompano Beach on Wednesday, touted Florida as the first state to begin vaccinating residents at long-term care facilities. While vaccines have been shipped nationwide since Monday, most elder care facilities in the country signed up through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care, which launches on Dec. 21.

Vaccines are in Tampa Bay. Who gets them and when?” via Megan Reeves, Romy Ellenbogen, Kathryn Varn and Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — Using clues from a draft plan released by the state in October, the Tampa Bay Times spoke with local officials to piece together what the region’s residents should expect for vaccinations in the coming weeks. Tampa General will continue distributing doses to other local hospitals as needed. Moffitt and BayCare hospitals will receive vaccines from Tampa General on Thursday. Bayfront St. Petersburg will start vaccinations Friday. HCA, which operates 15 hospitals in and around Tampa Bay, also starts vaccinating employees Friday. In the state’s October draft plan, first responders were included in the first wave of people who would have access to the vaccine. But local officials said they don’t know when that may be.

Pinellas nursing home residents among first to get coronavirus vaccine” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — In front of a lit Christmas tree and before a virtual audience, paramedics administered coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday to a resident and an administrator of a St. Petersburg nursing home. Carrington Place of St. Pete was among the first nursing homes in the state to receive vaccinations for residents and staff members — a priority population. Long-term care facilities in Pinellas and Broward counties were chosen as pilot sites for the Pfizer vaccine. Strike teams set up by the state to administer the vaccine in the next few weeks have been allocated about 21,000 doses. Thirteen of the county’s nursing homes received vaccinations on Wednesday. All of the county’s 68 nursing homes will receive vaccinations over the next five days.

Why might women be less eager to get the coronavirus vaccine? An investigation.” via Monica Hesse of The Washington Post — A trio of surveys released in the past few weeks upended what we knew, or thought we knew, about women’s and men’s behaviors and beliefs during the pandemic. With coronavirus vaccines on the horizon, Pew Research asked nearly 13,000 Americans whether they intended to get one. Women were less likely than men, 54% to 67%, to say they did. National Geographic and Gallup surveys reinforced the discrepancy. Cary Funk, the author of the Pew study, said the biggest factor in a person’s likeliness to want a vaccine was their political party. But when Funk compared Democratic women with Democratic men, or Republican men with Republican women, the gender gap was still there.

Uncertainty, lack of data, can make pregnant women wary about taking COVID-19 vaccine” via Issac Morgan of the Florida Phoenix — For pregnant women and those who may become pregnant, it’s a disconcerting time. Florida and other states in the nation have received the first COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, but women preparing for a baby, or thinking about having a baby, will need to decide to get immunized for the virus that has caused thousands of infections and deaths. At issue is a lack of data and the “I don’t know” factor. Willa Fuller, executive director of the Florida Nurses Association, agreed that pregnant or lactating women were not included in Pfizer’s vaccine trials earlier this year. And because those groups of women were excluded, health experts “are telling women to ask their health care providers what they should do.”

Health care worker in Alaska has severe allergic reaction to coronavirus vaccine” via Lena H. Sun and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — A health care worker in Alaska had a serious allergic reaction after getting the new coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech — the first such case reported in the U.S. since shots began going into arms earlier this week. The Alaska case echoes two similar cases in Britain in which health care workers had serious but nonfatal allergic reactions to the vaccine. But the British workers had histories of severe allergic reactions, whereas the Alaska woman had none, state health officials said. She is now stable and was discharged from a hospital where she was kept overnight. Pfizer reported no such allergic responses in randomized trials, known as anaphylaxis, but people with a history of them were excluded from participating.


11,541 test positive, 125 declared dead in Florida’s latest pandemic update” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — State health officials reported 11,541 new positive cases and 125 deaths tied to the pandemic still surging across the nation. As of Wednesday, 1,155,335 people have tested positive and 20,490 people have died in Florida. That includes 1,136,024 Florida residents, including 20,204 who have died. Of the deaths confirmed in Wednesday’s afternoon report, which includes updates between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, 125 were Florida residents. The positivity rate for new cases again began increasing the day after Thanksgiving, nearly neutralizing two weeks of improvements since positivity rates topped 10% last month. That day, the positivity rate was down to 6.2% but returned to 9.1% on Dec. 1. Florida topped that again with a 9.6% positivity rate Monday, followed by 9.3% Tuesday.

2 White House Task Force reports released by DeSantis’ office after Orlando Sentinel sues” via Naseem S. Miller of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis’ office on Wednesday evening released two White House Coronavirus Task Force reports that are more than a month old, nearly a week after the Orlando Sentinel filed a lawsuit to obtain all the weekly reports going back to Nov. 1. However, the Sentinel’s lawsuit is not resolved, as the state has not yet agreed to promptly release all former reports and future reports. The parties have a hearing set for Monday. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is planning to join the complaint. The Orlando Sentinel filed the lawsuit on Dec. 11, after the Governor’s office failed to provide any of the reports from November. The reports released on Wednesday were from Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.

After the Orlando Sentinel filed suit, Ron DeSantis’ office releases Coronavirus Task Force reports — more than a month old. Image via AP.

White House spokesperson says DeSantis made Florida a ‘free state’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Florida’s Governor received a vote of confidence from a spokesperson for the President Wednesday. Kayleigh McEnany, on Wednesday morning’s Fox and Friends, lauded DeSantis as one of the greatest Governors in the country, contrasting his making Florida a “free state” with the “Orwellian” solutions of Democrats leading other states. The messaging from McEnany muddles conclusions from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that Florida must impose restrictions amid an uptick in infections in recent weeks. McEnany enthused about DeSantis in what she called her “campaign capacity,” as she appeared on behalf of the campaign and not the White House itself.

How far did Ron DeSantis’s loyalty to Donald Trump go?” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — When DeSantis ran for governor of Florida in 2018, he made a politically savvy decision: He would be the most pro-President Trump candidate possible. After he earned Trump’s endorsement in the Republican primary — and then won his party’s nomination — his campaign ran an ad touting how loyal he was to the president’s vision. After narrowly winning the general election, he remained loyal to Trump. After the coronavirus emerged in the United States, he echoed Trump’s insistences that economic activity should not be constrained to slow the virus’s spread.

The pandemic is hitting Florida families harder than those elsewhere. Food is scarce.” via Yadira Lopez of the Miami Herald — Children in Florida are faring worse than the national average, according to a new report that examined the pandemic’s impact on families in all 50 states. Housing stability in particular appears grim for Florida families with children. Nearly a quarter of households — 23% — indicated slight or no confidence they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time, compared to 18% nationally. Florida families with children also fared worse in food security and health care, according to the KIDS COUNT report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

COVID-19 Festivus pole would honor Florida’s dead” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Chaz Stevens, a self-described atheist from Boca Raton, made national news for putting up a Festivus pole made of beer cans at the state Capitol seven years ago. Now he wants to place a more somber display in the Capitol Rotunda to honor those who lost their lives to COVID-19. Instead of being decorated with beer cans, this year’s Festivus pole would be spray-painted black and topped with a surgical mask, Stevens says. The mask will sport one word: Vote. Stevens hopes to set up the display on Dec. 23, then take it down the same day. But first, he needs the OK from the state.


Hillsborough County OKs tougher face mask rule” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough County now prohibits people from standing at bars to eat and drink or from gathering on the dance floor. On a 5-2 vote Wednesday, the county commission agreed to expand its face mask mandate to help contain the coronavirus’s spread that causes COVID-19. The change strengthens the mask requirement that has been in place since June. Currently, people inside businesses must wear facial coverings when they are unable to practice social distancing. An exemption is granted if people are eating or drinking. Effective immediately, the approved change says people must be seated while eating or drinking to avoid the mask requirement. That rule is already included in Pinellas County’s face mask order.

Tampa’s Jane Castor: Crackdown looms for violations of coronavirus restrictions” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Tampa Mayor Castor said a regional enforcement effort would be announced Thursday morning to crack down on local business owners who ignore social distancing and mask orders. Those businesses who are “blatantly violating” safety measures recommended to stop the spread of the coronavirus will be targeted, she said in a Facebook Live address Wednesday afternoon. The virtual news conference will be held at 11 a.m., and Castor will be joined by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, Hillsborough County Commission chairwoman Pat Kemp and Pinellas County Commission chairwoman Pat Gerard, according to a city spokeswoman.

Jane Castor threatens to enforce coronavirus restrictions, cracking down on business owners who shone social distancing and mask orders. Image via WTSP.

First Coast surges past 78,000 coronavirus cases” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — There were 1,176 new cases of coronavirus added in one day for the First Coast, according to Florida Department of Health data released Wednesday. There are now 78,162 COVID-19 infections in the five-county Northeast Florida region, up from Tuesday’s figure of 76,986. It’s also an increase of more than 10,000 infections compared to two weeks ago when there were 67,603 cases recorded on Dec. 2. Wednesday’s case increase is also the biggest single-day jump in infections so far this month. Every county in the region recorded a positivity test rate for coronavirus above 10%, except one. The highest positivity rate was in Baker County at 16.52%, and the lowest was Nassau County at 9.72%.

SW Florida infections climb past 110K as hospitals await vaccines” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The latest report from the Department of Health shows a total of 110,028 out of the state’s 1,155,335 reported infections are tied to Southwest Florida. That’s a jump of 1,022 cases since Tuesday’s report. Another 16 deaths were also reported in the region, bringing the total for the area to 2,311. That means 9.5% of cases statewide come from the 10-county area, but a higher mortality rate in the region means about 11.3% of those who died with COVID-19 are Southwest Florida residents. But while deaths in recent weeks have climbed in Sarasota County, health officials there also released promising news Wednesday. Sarasota Memorial Health Care System expects to receive its first shipments of Moderna vaccines early next week.

Visitor restrictions imposed at Southwest Florida’s largest hospital systems as COVID-19 cases jump” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — The two largest hospital systems in Southwest Florida have reduced patient visitation hours due to surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Lee Health in Lee County and the NCH Healthcare System in Collier County limit visitation from noon to 6 p.m. daily to protect patients and staff against the virus. Rules of wearing masks, completing health screenings, and temperature checks remain in effect. According to spokeswoman Brittney Thoman, Physicians Regional Healthcare System in Collier is not making any change to its visitation policy at this time. The new restrictions come as both communities face spikes in hospitalizations that’d been expected following the Thanksgiving holiday and relaxed gatherings, coupled with increases in visitors to Southwest Florida and the return of winter residents.

Can a $100,000 robot help fight COVID? The Key West airport now has one to zap the germs” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Starting Friday, Monroe County’s new $100,000 robot that emits ultraviolet light will begin autonomously disinfecting the inside of Key West International Airport after hours. At nearly six feet tall and more than 300 pounds, the new arrival is made by UVD Robots. UVD says its robots were designed for hospitals, hotels, cruise ships, malls, and airports. The county bought the robot from IP Program in Tampa. Airport officials said the robot could disinfect the entire airport’s interior spaces in about 2 1/2 hours. It will make the rounds once nightly after the airport closes and there aren’t people around, said county spokeswoman Kristen Livengood.

LightStrike is a UV robot that is a proven killer of the novel coronavirus. Image via AP.

Coronavirus prompts Tarpon Springs to limit Epiphany as church resists” via Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s Epiphany celebration is on for Jan. 6, but Tarpon Springs Police Chief Robert Kochen warned that law enforcement would not support the cross dive if a typical-sized crowd gathers. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, city commissioners on Tuesday approved a special event permit with two conditions: organizers must eliminate the formal procession and limit attendance. Church officials objected when the police chief said law enforcement would not staff the event unless crowd size is limited. “The church has armed individuals, trained with a license to carry, and if we need to bring those in because the city doesn’t want to help us, we’ll bring them in,” said attorney Jerry Theophilopoulos, who represents the cathedral.


‘We want them infected’: Donald Trump appointee demanded ‘herd immunity’ strategy, emails reveal” via Dan Diamond of POLITICO — A top Trump appointee repeatedly urged top health officials to adopt a “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 and allow millions of Americans to be infected by the virus, according to internal emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee and shared with POLITICO. “There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high-risk groups to expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD,” then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote on July 4 to his boss, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo, and six other senior officials. Alexander also argued that colleges should stay open to allow COVID-19 infections to spread.

A top Trump appointee urged a ‘herd immunity’ approach to COVID-19, allowing millions of Americans to become infected. Image via AP.

U.S. could get additional Pfizer vaccine doses by summer” via Sarah Owermohle and Brianna Ehley of POLITICO — The United States is negotiating with Pfizer to supply more coronavirus vaccines by midyear, despite the company’s earlier warning that worldwide deals have locked in hundreds of millions of doses through the summer. Officials “are engaged in active negotiations” with Pfizer to boost the U.S. supply, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Wednesday morning. He added that Pfizer notified the federal government of “manufacturing challenges” but did not disclose further details or indicate whether that could impact future vaccine production. While Pfizer originally promised the government 100 million doses over the next few months — enough to vaccinate 50 million people — the government did not exercise an option to expand that deal up to 500 million shots.

It’s a Hanukkah miracle — “FDA says Pfizer vaccine vials hold extra doses, expanding supply” via Sarah Owermohle of POLITICO — Pharmacists have found a way to squeeze extra doses out of vials of Pfizer’s vaccine, potentially expanding the nation’s scarce supply by up to 40%. The FDA said late Wednesday that those extra doses could be used, clearing up the confusion that had caused some pharmacists to throw away leftover vaccine for fear of violating the rules the agency set last week. The Pfizer vials are supposed to hold five doses, but pharmacists have found they have enough for a sixth or even a seventh dose. Putting those into use could significantly increase the United States’ scarce early supply of the shot, reducing the likelihood of a “vaccine cliff” this spring as demand outpaces supply.

MAGA-world may resist the vaccine, but it still wants Trump to get credit” via Tina Nguyen of POLITICO — Across the far-right, and especially in the conspiratorial corners of MAGA world, Trump’s supporters are finding novel ways to both lavish the President with praise for speeding a COVID vaccine, while arguing against taking the vaccine itself. Some explanations focus on limiting vaccinations — only high-risk individuals and health care workers should get it, while the rest should simply resume our pre-pandemic lives. Others are reflexively anti-establishment — a vaccine is needed, but the government shouldn’t dictate what we put in our bodies. Others are fantastical — the vaccine is somehow part of an elitist conspiracy to control the world. And increasingly, the loudest anti-vaccine advocates are high-profile MAGA supporters.

Like a hand grasping’: Trump appointees describe the crushing of the CDC” via Noah Weiland of The New York Times — Kyle McGowan, a former chief of staff at the CDC, and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, were installed in 2018 as two of the youngest political appointees in the history of the world’s premier public health agency, young Republicans returning to their native Georgia to dream jobs. But what they witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic this year in the CDC’s leadership suite on the 12-floor headquarters here shook them: Washington’s dismissal of science, the White House’s slow suffocation of the agency’s voice, the meddling in its messages and the siphoning of its budget. In a series of interviews, the pair decided to go public with their disillusionment: what went wrong, and what they believe needs to be done.

Anthony Fauci won’t be seeing his kids this Christmas, and he wants everyone to do the same” via Kathryn Krawczyk of Yahoo Money — Fauci and his wife will be spending the holidays — and Fauci’s birthday — alone this year. As he did for Thanksgiving, the nation’s top infectious disease expert won’t be seeing his three adult daughters this Christmas or for his 80th birthday on Christmas Eve, and he recommends other Americans remain similarly isolate. “That’s painful,” Fauci acknowledged, but it’s “just one of the things you’re going to have to accept as we go through this unprecedented challenging time.” Americans didn’t heed the CDC’s recommendation to stay home for Thanksgiving, and we’re now seeing “dramatic” increases in infections, Fauci acknowledged. “We’re already in a very difficult situation, and we’re going to make it worse,” if the Christmas holidays continue as usual, Fauci added.

Anthony Fauci will not see his children for the holidays — and his 80th birthday.

A top scientist questioned virus lockdowns on Fox News. The backlash was fierce.” via Peter Jamison of The Washington Post — It was late March, and as the coronavirus spread across the country, it came as no surprise that journalists were turning to John Ioannidis. The Stanford University medical professor was famous for his rigorous assessments of disease treatments. He was a consummate physician-researcher, combining fluency in the mathematical models that predict a pathogen’s lines of attack. He speculated that the coronavirus might be less dangerous than assumed. The greater risk lay not in COVID-19 but in overzealous lockdowns to prevent its spread. Critics say he’s violating the principles of intellectual rigor he has spent much of his career espousing — refusing to admit his mistaken judgments and recklessly lending a scientific imprimatur to forces that defy public-health directives for irrational reasons.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tests positive for COVID-19, goes into quarantine” via Joey Garrison of USA Today — Bernhardt tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19 before sitting out of President Donald Trump‘s Cabinet meeting later in the day, his department confirmed. “He is currently asymptomatic and will continue to work on behalf of the American people while in quarantine.” Nicholas Goodwin, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement. Bernhardt is at least the third top official from the department to contract the coronavirus since November. Bernhardt’s infection has “set off a wave of tests” among other among high-ranking department officials.


Nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since the summer” via Heather Long of The Washington Post — The poverty rate jumped to 11.7% in November, up 2.4 percentage points since June, according to new data released Wednesday by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. While overall poverty levels are low by historical standards, the increase in poverty this year has been swift. It is the biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago. It is nearly double the next-largest rise, which occurred in 1979-1980 during the oil crisis, according to James X. Sullivan, a professor at Notre Dame, and Bruce D. Meyer, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

America’s biggest companies are flourishing during the pandemic and putting thousands of people out of work” via Douglas MacMillan, Peter Whoriskey and Jonathan O’Connell of The Washington Post — With few exceptions, big businesses are having a very different year from most of the country. Between April and September, one of the most tumultuous economic stretches in modern history, 45 of the 50 most valuable publicly traded U.S. companies turned a profit. Despite their success, at least 27 of the 50 largest firms held layoffs this year, collectively cutting more than 100,000 workers. The data reveals a split-screen inside many big companies this year. On one side, corporate leaders are touting their success and casting themselves as leaders on the road to economic recovery. On the other, many of their firms have put Americans out of work and used their profits to increase shareholders’ wealth.

Retail sales fell 1.1% in November, biggest drop in 7 months” via Joseph Pisani of The Associated Press — Retail sales fell 1.1% in November, the biggest drop in seven months, as Americans held back on spending to start of the holiday shopping season. The report by the U.S. Commerce Department is a sign of how the pandemic is slowing the U.S. economy as retailers face tighter restrictions and people stay away from stores. The Commerce Department on Wednesday also revised October’s report, saying that retail sales fell 0.1% that month, instead of rising 0.3% as it previously reported. Black Friday was also a bust. Typically one of the busiest shopping days of the season, shoppers mostly stayed home after health officials warned people not to shop in person, and retailers followed suit by putting their best deals online.

Americans are holding back on spending for the holidays, causing retail sales to drop helping to make the busiest shopping season a bust. Image via AP.

Hotel bookings spike on positive vaccine news” via Nikki Ekstein of Bloomberg — In the last week, a window seems to have opened for the hard-hit hotel industry. On Dec. 11, the same day that Pfizer’s vaccine received approval by the FDA for use, the number of bookings made across Marriott, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Kayak and Priceline’s websites took a sudden and sharp turn upward. According to RateGain, the travel technology company that powers bookings for the aforementioned brands as well as Hotwire, Trivago, Hyatt, and Accor, last Friday represented the largest number of daily bookings since the pandemic began in March, with 9,512 transactions processed in the U.S. That number is comparable to a typical day’s sales in Nov. and Dec. 2019, which generally saw between 8,500 to 10,000 bookings.


British officials identify coronavirus mutations, but significance remains unclear” via William Booth and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — The issue of mutations sparked headlines across the United Kingdom after a top government official announced that more than 1,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in southeast England show a suite of genetic mutations that might be driving the surge in that region. That news was quickly followed by a striking statement from Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust biomedical research foundation, saying “there is evidence to indicate a new variant of the COVID-19 virus” and calling this development “potentially serious.” He said it is unclear whether the variant is responsible for the spike in infections in parts of the U.K. or what this may or may not mean for transmission of the virus and the efficacy of vaccines.

COVID-19 is mutating, but experts are not sure what that means just yet. Image via AP.

No, you still shouldn’t travel if you had COVID-19” via Natalie V. Compton of The Washington Post — As Americans grapple with the CDC’s strong warning to stay at home this winter to stop the spread of the coronavirus, some are wondering if they are exempt from the recommendation if they have already recovered from the illness. People who had the coronavirus can develop antibodies that circulate in the blood and can neutralize the pathogen. But questions around immunity still linger. The CDC says cases of reinfection have been reported but “are rare.” But should you travel if you already had the coronavirus? While scientists have discovered the body’s defenses against the coronavirus — antibodies, T cells and B cells — may persist for three months, health experts warn against traveling, as recovered coronavirus patients can get reinfected.

High-end city dining turns to suburban delivery during the pandemic” via Alina Dizik of The Wall Street Journal — The pandemic has brought limitations on in-person dining, and many suburban diners have found themselves too far from city restaurants to stop in for pickup or get delivery via popular apps like Seamless. So urban restaurateurs are coming up with creative ways to get their food into the hands of people who live outside the city, even if it means setting up camp in a suburban parking lot. Many have invested in refrigerated trucks, organized pickup times for orders, and developed complex reheating instructions for food that travels up to an hour before being eaten.

The only story that matters — “Disney Cruise Line removes March sailings, marking one year of COVID-19 cancellations” via Richard Tribou of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Disney Cruise Line has removed the ability to book March 2021 sailings from its website, which would mark more than a year of cancellations because of the coronavirus pandemic. The line’s COVID-19 heath warning atop its site, though, has yet to identify all March sailings as being canceled, but now the earliest consumers can book a cruise on its site is April 2021. All cruise lines that sail out of Port Canaveral have canceled sailings through February as they attempt to adhere to the “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” from the CDC.


Mike Pence prepares to confirm Donald Trump’s loss — and then leave town” via Gabby Orr and Nahal Toosi of POLITICO —As Vice President, Pence has the awkward but unavoidable duty of presiding over the session of Congress that will formalize Biden’s Electoral College victory — a development that is likely to expose him and other Republicans to the wrath of GOP voters who believe President Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen from him. But Pence could dodge their ire by leaving Washington immediately for the Middle East and Europe. According to three U.S. officials familiar with the planning, the vice president is eyeing a foreign trip that would take him overseas for nearly a week, starting on Jan. 6.

Mar-a-Lago neighbors to Trump: Spend your post-presidency elsewhere” via Manuel Roig-Franzia and Carol D. Leonnig of The Washington Post — Next-door neighbors of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, have a message for the outgoing commander in chief: We don’t want you to be our neighbor. That message was formally delivered Tuesday morning in a demand letter delivered to the town of Palm Beach and also addressed to the U.S. Secret Service asserting that Trump lost his legal right to live at Mar-a-Lago because of an agreement he signed in the early 1990s when he converted the storied estate from his private residence to a private club.

Palm Beach neighbors of Mar-a-Lago are not happy that Donald Trump is considering his post-presidency there.

Rigged system? Rick Scott warns that Trump voters sour on elections” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — U.S. Sen. Scott gave voice to numerous election security concerns in a Senate hearing Wednesday. The meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs drilled down on persistent claims from the President and some allies that voting irregularities may have swayed last month’s Presidential election. Scott contended that American voters had “lost confidence in the electoral process.” And his comments suggested they hadn’t gained more confidence in the weeks since, with the Senator saying that people don’t trust the process. “Every time I go out, people come up to me,” he said. The Senator added that those people are “mad … about the unfairness of the system” and “furious that the whole system is rigged.”


‘Million-dollar question’: Will Trump no-show Biden’s inauguration?” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Traditional in the change of Presidents in the United States is the practice of the former President showing up to his successor’s inauguration, conferring a peaceful transfer of power. However, these are not traditional times, and a spokesperson for Trump suggested that he may no show Biden‘s inauguration event, opting instead for a rally with supporters in the Sunshine State. “That is the million-dollar question. I’ve been asked it a lot,” a smiling Kayleigh McEnany told Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy. “I will leave that for the President.” Cajoled further by Doocy for a “hint,” McEnany kept smiling.

Will Donald Trump attend Joe Biden’s inauguration? Who knows. Image via AP.

Biden introduces ex-rival Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, with coronavirus travel and crumbling infrastructure as immediate issues” via Aamer Madhani and Will Weissert of The Associated Press — Biden introduced onetime Democratic primary rival Buttigieg on Wednesday as his nominee for transportation secretary, saying the 38-year-old can be “a new voice” in the fight against economic inequality, institutional racism and climate change. Buttigieg would be the first openly gay person confirmed by the Senate to a Cabinet position. Biden hailed that while saying, by the time he’s done filling out his new administration’s top jobs, it will have more women and people of color than ever. The President-elect noted that much of the nation faces rising sea levels. However, a more immediate challenge will be enforcing Biden’s promised mask-wearing mandate for airplanes and public transportation systems to slow the spread of the coronavirus.


White House Counsel’s Office warned Trump not to fire Chris Wray” via Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube of NBC News — Trump has come so close to firing FBI Director Wray in recent months the White House Counsel’s Office has warned him not to do so because it could put him in potential legal jeopardy, according to a senior administration official with direct knowledge of the discussion and a U.S. official familiar with the discussion. White House lawyers “strongly” advised Trump against firing another FBI director out of concern that doing so would risk creating the perception that a “loyalty test” was being imposed on a position that traditionally has maintained independence from the White House.

Donald Trump was warned of the optics of firing FBI head Christopher Wray, which could put him in legal jeopardy.

Mitch McConnell told Republicans that Georgia’s Senators were ‘getting hammered’ for Congress’s failure to act.” via Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos and Catie Edmondson of The New York Times — Sen. McConnell, the majority leader, privately made the case to Republicans on Wednesday for a stimulus deal that includes another round of direct payments to struggling Americans, suggesting that delivering such help could boost the party’s hopes of hanging onto their majority in the Senate. In a call on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. McConnell said that Sens. Loeffler and Perdue, who are both facing January runoffs that will determine which party controls the Senate, were “getting hammered” for Congress’s failure to deliver more pandemic aid to struggling Americans — particularly the direct payments — and that enacting the measure could help them. He also emphasized that Trump, who has pushed for another round of stimulus checks, could sign the package.

Byron Donalds campaigns in Georgia runoffs with Club For Growth tour” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Donalds isn’t done with the campaign trail yet this year. As two high-stakes Senate races play out in Georgia, the Naples Republican hopped on a campaign bus through the Peach State. He’s riding the Save America Tour bus with Club For Growth Action, a conservative PAC that played a substantial role in Donalds’ own run for Congress this year. Donalds headed to Georgia because of the must-win nature of two Senate races. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face runoffs in January against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively. If Democrats flip both seats, that means a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President-elect Harris casting a tiebreaking vote, so Democrats control the chamber.

Personnel note: Melissa Kelly to serve as Scott Franklin’s Chief of Staff — Incoming U.S. Rep. Franklin has tapped Kelly to serve as his chief of staff in Washington. Kelly is an experienced staffer who has worked in Republican politics for more than two decades. She started by working as press secretary for former U.S. Rep. Ron Packard of California, moving on to serve as a press officer for former New York Gov. George Pataki. From 2003 through 2007, she worked for Colorado U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, starting as his communications director and ending as his deputy chief of staff. She recently served as chief of staff to Texas U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a position she has held since June 2018.


Will DeSantis hire another Florida climate change czar?” via Zachary T. Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — For almost seven months, Florida had a dedicated leader on climate change. Then she left for another job. The state has now gone longer than that without a full-time replacement. Environmental advocates celebrated Gov. DeSantis’ hiring of Julia Nesheiwat for the newly created position of chief resilience officer in summer 2019. They saw the move as a declaration his office would accept, and try to address, the realities of climate change in a vulnerable state. Now some wonder about that commitment.

Nikki Fried’s political committee asks donors to help her ‘push for cannabis legalization’” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Fried on Wednesday sent an email through her political committee, Florida Consumers First, asking donors to help her “push for cannabis legalization.” The fundraising email notes Congress’s approval of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act earlier this month. The Act, which is expected to die in the GOP-controlled Senate, would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. It would also expunge lower-level federal marijuana offenses and create a 5% excise tax to support businesses and individuals “impacted by the war on drugs.” Fried, who is Florida’s top-elected Democrat and a possible 2022 gubernatorial contender, has long championed cannabis in Florida. The Commissioner’s email comes in the wake of a 2020 election that suggested Americans broadly accept cannabis throughout the country.

Nikki Fried’s political committee is pushing hard for cannabis legalization.

Marco Rubio’s middle road on Trump’s election challenges could draw a GOP primary challenge” via David Smiley and Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — At a weekend rally organized by Republicans outside Miami’s Freedom Tower, a crowd unified by the false belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump gathered and waved Trump 2020 banners, American flags — and, in one case, a sign asking “Where’s Marco?” Rubio was not expected to attend the event. Though Rubio has not criticized Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, he has stopped short of backing the President’s allegations of widespread voter fraud. “Where is Marco, indeed?” Roger Stone, a former Trump adviser who spoke at the Sunday rally in Miami, wrote later on the social media site Parler. “A growing number of Florida Republicans are urging me to challenge Marco Rubio in the Republican primary.”

Lauren Book considering statewide bid in 2022” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Democratic Sen. Book is considering a statewide run for office in 2022, with a likely landing spot being a race against Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. “Sen. Book clearly has a very bright future and is being approached by several leaders about seeking higher office,” Steve Vancore, a longtime Book consultant, said in an interview. “At this critical time in our state, her focus is on her Senate duties, but nothing is off the table.” Patronis was first appointed by former Gov. Scott in 2017 to replace Republican CFO Jeff Atwater, and won election in 2018, knocking off Democrat Jeremy Ring 51-48.

Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Ione Townsend plans run for state chairman” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough County Democratic Party Chair Townsend is expected to announce that she’s running for chairman of the state Democratic Party. Party officials confirmed Tuesday that Townsend had filed paperwork to enter the race. The candidate field to replace outgoing Chair Terrie Rizzo is growing crowded, but Townsend said in an interview this week that she believes there is a path for her to win. Townsend has been chairman of the Hillsborough Party since 2016. In that time, its fundraising and membership have grown substantially, including nearly quadrupling fundraising to more than $400,000 in 2020 and becoming a significant donor to local Democratic candidates.

State, Deloitte say unemployment case should be tossed” via News Service of Florida — The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Deloitte Consulting are asking a Leon County circuit judge to toss out a revised class-action lawsuit that seeks damages because of problems with the state’s unemployment-compensation system during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency and Deloitte filed motions last week to dismiss the case, saying, in part, that the plaintiffs are making largely the same arguments that Judge John Cooper rejected in an earlier version of the lawsuit. “Simply put, the third amended complaint (the latest version) is substantially indistinguishable from the one the court found to be deficient and provides no basis for the court to revisit its prior conclusions,” Deloitte attorneys wrote.

Fish and Wildlife shuts down Apalachicola Bay, known nationally for its oysters” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — Because of a dwindling oyster population, a Florida agency voted Wednesday unanimously to shut down oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay through the end of 2025, dealing a blow to an area that historically produced 90% of the state’s oysters and 10% of the nation’s. People in the area are divided between coming up with a long-term plan to save the industry and allowing it to continue on a limited basis. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did express the hope of reopening the bay before the ban on commercial and recreational harvesting ends if oysters recover sooner. “If we can get there faster, that’s everyone’s desire,” Commissioner Michael Sole said.

Much to the dismay of oyster lovers, Florida wildlife officials closed Apalachicola Bay.

Florida union boss accused of ‘stealing’ funds to renovate office headquarters” via Ana Ceballos of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau — An internal feud within one of Florida’s largest unions has spilled over into court, revealing allegations that a union president may have misused roughly $140,000 to renovate a Tallahassee office that doubles as the union’s state headquarters. Vicki Hall, the president of the AFSCME Florida Council 79, is accused of “stealing union funds” to pay for office renovations that included new wood panel floors, a refinished kitchen, new bathrooms, and flat-screen TVs, court records show. The allegations are included in a wrongful termination complaint filed by the union’s former in-house counsel, Stacy Wein, who claims Hall fired her a day after she testified Hall stole union funds to make “expensive but undocumented renovations” to the Tallahassee office.


New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Joshua Aubuchon, Mark Delegal, Delegal Aubuchon Consulting: Florida Advocates for Nursing Students

Brian Ballard, Brady Benford, Chris Dorworth, Ballard Partners: BetMGM

Michael Bell: Rayonier

Emily Bolde, Bob Harris, Messer Caparello: Florida Advocates for Nursing Students

Erin Deady, Erin L. Deady PA: Rob Shear


Carlos Giménez’s well-connected daughter-in-law to run for Coral Gables Commission” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade is infamous for its political dynasties. On the ballot this year, Miami voters saw familiar names up and down the ballot: Suarez, Hardemon, Barreiro, Regalado, Diaz de la Portilla. Now, the Coral Gables city commission is getting its own injection of family affairs. Former Miami-Dade Mayor and new U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez’s daughter-in-law, Tania Cruz-Giménez, has filed her paperwork to fill the Group 2 seat vacated by Coral Gables Vice Mayor Vince Lago, who is running for Mayor against Commissioner Patricia Keon. Cruz-Gimenez, Democrat and wife of prominent lobbyist C.J. Giménez, said she’s more than her husband’s and her father-in-law’s name and runs on her own ideals.

Tania Cruz-Giménez, the daughter-in-law of newly elected Congressman Carlos Giménez, is more than her father-in-law’s name.

Broward teacher accused of watching porn during online class investigated” via Nicole Perez of Local 10 — Broward County Public Schools is investigating a teacher who was allegedly watching porn while teaching a virtual class. The Miami Herald reported about a video uploaded to Twitter showing the teacher at a desk and looking down when pornographic sounds are heard. The teacher is Michael Braeseke, a social science teacher at South Broward High School in Hollywood. In a statement, the school district said it “takes all matters and allegations involving the safety of students and staff very seriously. When school leaders were made aware of the alleged teacher misconduct during a virtual class, they took immediate action and began to look into allegations and follow proper protocols prior to social media posts.”

City’s sports and entertainment chief resigns amid misconduct investigation” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — Ryan Ali, the head of the city’s sports and entertainment office who is under investigation by the inspector general, resigned last week after being under a paid suspension for nearly three months. Mayor Lenny Curry‘s office notified Ali in September that he was the subject of a workplace misconduct investigation and would be placed on administrative leave. Ali, who earns $115,000 a year, has been prohibited from entering City Hall or communicating with city employees ever since. Curry hired Ali in July 2019 to be a manager in the sports and entertainment office, which oversees city-sponsored events like the Florida-Georgia football game and the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. Curry promoted him to lead the office a few months after he was hired.

Miami vs. Orlando: Two Florida cities in pricey, taxpayer-funded battle for the same, few tourists” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Anyone watching sports on TV in recent weeks has probably seen the ads that urge travelers to bypass Orlando and head for Miami. The commercials feature a safari guide who never mentions Orlando or Disney by name but clarifies: Only lame people visit Central Florida. This is the point in the column where I could take the easy route and start defending Orlando’s tourism honor by busting on South Florida. But as much fun as it might be to spend a whole column riffing on Miami vs. Orlando, I can’t. Because while this intrastate battle is kinda cute, it’s also kinda pathetic. What we have here are two tourism-dependent towns fighting over the same dwindling pool of travelers.

Tallahassee man sentenced to prison after assaulting USPS mail carrier with gun” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A Tallahassee man was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison Tuesday after he assaulted a United States Postal Service (USPS) mail carrier in the Capital city, announced U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe. According to the news release, 26-year-old Darius Lee Allen assaulted the mail carrier with a firearm on April 2 after the postal worker, who didn’t recognize Allen, refused to hand him the mail. After roughly 20 minutes, Allen reapproached the mail carrier — who was delivering to other neighborhood homes — and fired a gun into the air. Allen fled the scene immediately after the shooting. The mail carrier retreated in his vehicle and called 911 to report the incident, the news release said.

Ethics Board lobbying ordinances taking shape aim to close loopholes at Tallahassee City Hall” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board is continuing its work to develop additions to the city’s lobbying ordinances, floating three proposals that would strengthen its oversight over those trying to influence government. For the new measures, the ethics board is looking to expand its purview to include oversight over lobbying, clearly defining who is a lobbyist and who would be subject to registering with the city, and requiring detailed logs of all lobbyist contacts with government officials. Ethics Officer Dwight Floyd said he didn’t expect any final votes during the board’s meeting Thursday but instead continued efforts to solidify recommendations to be voted on by the City Commission.

Bye, Felicia —Mike Huckabee leaving South Walton to return to Arkansas” via Tom McLaughlin of Northwest Florida Daily News — Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, who has spent almost a decade enjoying life on the beach as one of South Walton County’s most prominent residents, is moving home. Huckabee confirmed Wednesday a rumor that had gotten out the night before. “We absolutely love our home and love the area and our neighbors and friends and especially our church,” the former Governor wrote in an email. “But all seven grandchildren are now in Little Rock, as are all three of our adult children. Should Sarah make a run for office, we need to be there to help, mostly babysit kids.” Huckabee’s daughter is thought to be contemplating a run for the same post her father held from 1996 to 2007.

Good riddance: Walton Beach resident Mike Huckabee is high-tailing it back to Arkansas.

WhoaBill Barker steps down as publisher in SWFL, regional president for Gannett” via Laura Layden of the Naples Daily News — Barker has seen a whirlwind of changes since taking the job as president and publisher of the Naples Daily News more than seven years ago. That includes multiple changes in ownership, business models and leadership — and shifts in his own duties, responsibilities and challenges, as well as the continued evolution of the newspaper industry itself in a digital world. Yet another big change is coming: His departure, a result of Gannett’s continued efforts to consolidate its operations for a competitive edge. His last day is Monday. While it wasn’t an easy decision, Barker said he chose to step down with Gannett’s announcement of plans to reduce its number of regional divisions from eight to five.


‘Don’t be silenced by armed police raid at my Florida home, COVID whistleblowers. I won’t be’” via Rebekah Jones for the Miami Herald — I accepted months ago that being a whistleblower and critic of DeSantis’ mismanagement of COVID-19 would likely cost me my freedom. I never expected police to enter my home to take my equipment and point guns at my children. The whiplash my family and I experienced after the raid last week felt like déjà vu of what I went through in May, with a violent, Gestapo-like twist. Attacking scientists and whistleblowers is as American as apple pie. But people’s refusal to be silenced is equally American. To all the would-be whistleblowers considering coming forward but who might be scared by the raid on my home: Never let the fear of retaliation temper your desire to be a good, honest person.


I was protecting democracy by joining Texas lawsuit” via Michael Waltz for the Orlando Sentinel — Last week, I signed onto the Texas case filed in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of actions in several states because I think restoring confidence in our elections process by working through our judiciary is what a democracy should do. This nonviolent, legal action on behalf of millions of Americans who share my concerns earned an outraged response from the Orlando Sentinel without so much as a phone call seeking to understand why I agreed with the significant constitutional issues raised in the suit. Because I dared to stray from the Orlando Sentinel’s hyperpartisan, elitist manifesto, they’ve declared me “dangerous,” “cowardly,” and “not committed to democracy.”

Florida’s future requires long-term water solutions” via Allen Douglas for Florida Politics — The 2021 Legislative Session is just around the corner, and a top priority of all lawmakers will be the health and safety of Floridians, as well as Florida’s economic recovery from COVID-19. As Floridians and business leaders, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida agrees that COVID-19 legislative priorities should take center stage. Yet, lawmakers will also be faced with taking bold actions on several important issues, including long-term water solutions. Through careful planning and strong partnerships, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls believe Florida can be a national example of resilient communities, where water remains an engine that drives our state’s prosperity instead of driving Floridians out during high-tides flooding events. We couldn’t agree more.

UmNew reservoir remains key to Everglades restoration” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board — Florida’s new Senate President is proposing a bad idea at a bad time. Simpson, a Republican who represents a district north of Tampa, said after taking office that the Legislature had made a “mistake” by approving a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. It will reduce or eliminate polluted lake water releases that poison coastal estuaries to the east and west. If cleaning Lake Okeechobee is the goal, Simpson said, the state could get “twice the bang for our buck” with a system of underground wells north of the lake. The need for added capacity south of the lake is obvious. But Simpson misses another key point. The reservoir will benefit not just the estuaries. It will help the Everglades.

Confederate holidays have no place on Florida’s calendar” via the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board — The Civil War ended in 1865. At the time, Floridians might have thought it appropriate to honor the architects of the Confederate cause. A lot of them felt the same way in 1965. But it’s 2020 now, and it seems unfathomable that the state would commemorate the births of Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Unfathomable, but true. Rep. Mike Grieco took the issue off the back burner last week by filing a bill that would remove those dates from the list of legal holidays. Lawmakers shouldn’t have to be prodded to pass the bill when the Legislature meets in March. They shouldn’t, but a similar bill was filed in 2018 and died in committee.


Florida has begun vaccinating seniors at nursing homes for COVID-19.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Vaccinations are scheduled to start at most Florida nursing homes Monday, but the Governor decided to get an early start in two counties that have an abundance of long-term care facilities for seniors.

— A new report in the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel accuse the state of artificially depressing the COVID-19 death toll in the weeks before the election. But they’re booming now: 125 additional fatalities were reported Wednesday … along with 11,541 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases.

— The man who runs the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is defending his officers … saying it was wrong for COVID-19 whistleblower Rebekah Jones to compare FDLE agents to the Gestapo.

— FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen says they haven’t completed their investigation of Jones, but he says she lied repeatedly about the raid on her Tallahassee home.

— On Sunrise Soapbox, Florida’s Attorney General defends her support for a lawsuit that would have invalidated millions of votes in four swing states won by Biden. Democrats call it an attempted coup … Ashley Moody insists she was trying to bring faith and trust to the electoral process.

— And finally, a Florida Woman is charged with attacking a maid and throwing her own German shepherd from the second-floor balcony of a Motel 6. Don’t worry — the dog is fine.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Cookies, hot cocoa, pick-me-up notes: ‘Sparks’ of kindness” via Peter Orsi and Emily Leshner of The Associated Press — Sparks of Kindness is an online community of people going out of their way to put a smile on the faces of others through small but touching good deeds, especially in tumultuous times of pandemic, protests, and political division. “There’s so much bad in the world, and that’s kind of what we hear about,” said Debbie McFarland, a 53-year-old photographer from Peachtree City, Georgia, who founded the group on Facebook. “But I found that there’s so many people that want to do good — they just don’t really know how to start.” That’s where Sparks of Kindness comes in. It has lists of ideas for “sparks,” or small kindnesses people can do.

After the stresses of 2020, we can all use a little Spark of Kindness.

Publix launches donation program for six food banks across Florida” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Publix is launching a new six-week program to help six of the largest food banks across the Sunshine State. The supermarket giant will donate pasta, canned vegetables, canned beans, cereal and boxed potatoes to the Feeding America food banks that collectively serve 46 of Florida’s 67 counties. “When we heard from food banks that they were facing a critical food shortage, we knew that, as a food retailer, we had another opportunity to help,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones in a news release. “With 90 years of relationships and expertise, we are able to mobilize quickly — sourcing, purchasing and transporting what these food banks need most — and bring hope and nourishment this holiday season.”

NFL hopes to celebrate health care workers at Super Bowl LV” via Kevin Patra of Around the NFL — On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to Rob Higgins, president of the Tampa Super Bowl Host Committee, noting the league’s desire to honor health care workers who have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I wanted to let you know that during our League Meeting today, we plan to discuss Super Bowl LV, including an exciting idea to honor and thank health care workers for their extraordinary service during the pandemic,” Goodell wrote. ”We will also use this as an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings.”

UPS, FedEx, USPS shipping deadlines: Will your Christmas gifts arrive on time or face delays amid COVID vaccine?” via Kelly Tyko of USA TODAY — Time is running out to ship holiday gifts in time for Christmas. Dec. 15 was the deadline for ground shipping at the nation’s three largest carriers, FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, almost identical to 2019 deadlines. But consumers should brace themselves for late packages and possible disappointment even if they meet the cutoffs amid the coronavirus pandemic. Adobe Analytics recommended buying gifts before Dec. 11, saying it predicts shipping costs will begin to rise after that date, “erasing some of the value consumers are getting from holiday deals.” FedEx and UPS have expanded weekend deliveries and hired more workers. They’ve also enforced limits on how many packages companies can send out a day and introduced steep holiday surcharges.

Can’t get a PlayStation 5? Meet the Grinch bots snapping up the holidays’ hottest gift.” via Geoffrey A. Fowler and Heather Kelly of The Washington Post — Computer programs that automate online tasks, called bots, have aligned with the coronavirus pandemic and low inventories of hot products to create a perfect storm of holiday disappointment — or opportunity, depending on your perspective. On Black Friday, when it launched a deal on the console, says it blocked more than 20 million bot attempts in the sale’s first 30 minutes. Target says it’s constantly tracking and blocking bots, focusing on high-demand products such as the PS5. British retailer Very said it canceled at least 1,000 game console orders after it realized bots placed them. Using shopping bots to buy these products is perfectly legal in the United States, despite flustering retailers and stoking annoyance for customers.


Best wishes to Holly McPhailKim RodgersMichael Tuthill, and our friend, Andrew Wiggins.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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